Ethiopia’s Muslims protest against being “treated like terrorists”

Muslims gathered at Anwar mosque in Addis Ababa on July 15. Photo by @DimtsachinYisem published on Facebook
 
Long known for its religious tolerance, Ethiopia’s reputation now looks to be hanging in the balance as some members of its Muslim community have accused the government of treating them as if they were terrorists, resulting in a wave of protests in the capital Addis Ababa.
 
Mass demonstrations against religious discrimination erupted anew on Saturday, after scores of people gathered at Addis Ababa’s Anawar mosque. Clashes reportedly broke out after police attempted to break up the crowd, leading to the arrest of hundreds of protesters.
 
Last Saturday's protest at the Anawar mosque in Addis Ababa.
 
Over recent months, members of Ethiopia’s Muslim community have gathered at the capital’s Awoliya mosque every Friday to demand a new “majlis”, or Muslim Council. Many feel as though the current “majlis” is mostly comprised of government-appointed figures who do not represent them.
 
The demonstrations first turned violent on July 13, when thousands gathered at the Anawar mosque to call for a new “majilis”. Security forces were immediately dispatched to break up the demonstration, which authorities perceived as an act aimed at disrupting an upcoming African Union summit to be held in the capital. Police forced the mosque’s entrance open, before shooting canisters of teargas at the crowd and arresting 72 people.
 
Protesters at Anwar mosque on July 14.
 
While the majority of people in Ethiopia are Orthodox Christian, nearly 34 percent of the population is Muslim. Although the country has no official religion and its constitution guarantees religious freedom, there are some Muslims who feel as though their rights have been encroached upon and accuse the government of pushing the ideology of al-Ahbash – a Sunni movement founded in Lebanon during the 20th century that largely condemns Salafism and encourages religious pluralism.
 
These allegations arise from the belief that Ethiopian authorities have worked over the last several years to make sure that the country’s “majlis” is made up of an al-Ahbash majority. Protesters are calling for a vote to elect new members to the religious body.
 
Frustration over the issue first emerged in the beginning of the year after a number of teachers at the Awoliya mosque’s school were dismissed, only to be replaced by educators who introduced an al-Ahbash based curriculum. Shortly afterwards the government also shut down the mosque’s university and its Arabic language centre. The government’s actions outraged many in the community, who viewed it as evidence of the state’s interference with religious institutions.
 
Faced with mounting criticism, Ethiopia’s government has denied allegations that it has supported or backed al-Ahbash figures. It has, however, said that the fight against religious extremism is a priority, and has justified any measures it has taken as necessary to ensure the country’s stability.
 
Surrounded by predominantly Muslim countries, Ethiopia has always stood as something of bastion against Islamic extremism. However, in the past few years, the Horn of Africa has been no stranger to terrorism. Radical groups such as al-Shabab, which has close ties to al-Qaeda, have taken root in Somalia and Kenya – two nations that share borders with Ethiopia.
Contributors

“Fighting for the right to freely practice you religion is not terrorism”

Aman, 26, is a businessman in Addis Ababa.
  
Ever since the beginning of the movement, we’ve organised our protests at mosques. They have never turned violent – all our rallies are peaceful.
 
The protest movement began with a group of students from Awoliya mosque school, where they were made to learn from an al-Ahbash curriculum. They were quickly supported by a majority of Muslims in Addis Ababa. We’re asking for a new “majlis”. We feel that the present council does not represent all Muslims in Ethiopia because they were not elected to their positions. For us, they will always be government puppets. In other parts of the country, Muslims have even set up their own councils because they refuse to be led by the state’s “majlis”.
 
We’re not asking that al-Ahbash ideology be banned. Every Muslim has the right to practice their faith in the way they see fit. What we don’t want is that this one belief system be imposed on all of us, because some believe it promotes heretical ideas.
   
A crowd of protesters outside the Anawar mosque on July 15. Photo by our Observer, Aman.
   
“Our leaders are watched and harassed by the police”
 
As our movement grew over time, the government’s attitude toward us also changed. We named leaders to head up negotiations, who were watched and harassed by the police on several occasions. [Last April, an imam from the region of Oromia was detained by the police. According to many in the Muslim community, this was due to his support for the protest movement. The government, meanwhile, accused him of preaching radical Islam.] Young activists have also been detained and physically abused, and a woman from my neighbourhood was beaten by security forces and left for dead in another part of the city.
 
“The government systematically uses the threat of terrorism as a weapon against its opponents”
 
About a month ago, state television began broadcasting new programmes on peace and tolerance among Ethiopia’s different religious communities. The overall message was that the sense of cohabitation and acceptance that has always characterised Ethiopia is now threatened by extremism in all its forms, in particular by Muslims from the Awoliya mosque. The government now systematically uses the threat of terrorism as a weapon against its opponents. The moment someone doesn’t conform with the government’s political line, they are labeled a terrorist. Fighting for the right to freely practice your religion is not terrorism. We should not be treated like terrorists!
Muslims and Christians in Ethiopia have always lived side by side. Even Christians recognise that all of this is government propaganda. We have always been neighbours, friends and often members of the same family because of inter-religious marriages. I have two aunts and an uncle who are married to Christians. I think the government hopes to ensure its own survival by trying to divide us. 
 
 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.

Comments

Which Ethiopian History are

Which Ethiopian History are you talking about? the North? Yes they are Christians. After 1940, however, the Ethiopian map changed when Somali region was incorporated. Now Ethiopia is a land of multiple religions and cultures without the democratic participation of each, development can not be envisioned. Remember the Bible says the rich cannot go to heaven, Ethiopian leaders followed the bible and chose their people to be poor. May be it is time you give chance to other religious followers who think richness, poorness, ethnicity won't hamper development and your chance to go to heaven. Ethiopia does not have any religion, Christianity was a burden and has not profited the nation anything.

you must be from Ethiopia

you must be from Ethiopia when releasing your immure comment

The media is totally controlled by the government, the government use ETV (media) as a vital propaganda tool to direct people toward a particular opinion. There will never be satisfying development in Ethiopia without building government which consist both religion members.

Ethiopian people are living under a government which is implementing ideology

people in Ethiopia should wake up regardless of their religion ,the government will soon control all aspect of the society

Ethiopian Muslims are experiencing deprivation of the fundamental freedoms and rights, if we kept silence observing the delusional journey of Ethiopian government

Good observation

It is good observation! this is what was happened there in the capital and the countryside. It is 100% the fault of the government to interfere in the religion affair. At the same time the government triggered the violence with the peace full protesters of Muslims at Anwar mosque , July 21/2012,in the capital city, addis baba.

thank you and we need you to cover more from ethiopia

France 24, thank you for coverage of this news. The Ethiopian Muslims have been on a peaceful demonstration for the last 8 months. The Gov't is abusing the the only Media, a state owned- "ETV" for misleading the unfortunate majority Ethiopians by orchestrating a Drama every single night about the Demonstration. They preach us democracy but they themselves break it. I think the Ethiopian gov't has ignored what the power of citizens is as we have seen in the wave of revolutions in northern African countries. as I have seen in some news the Ethiopian muslims demonstrators number is as high as 500,000 which is known to be next to the initial Thahrir Square gathering, and yet they tell us "only few fundamentalists" on that State TV. The Government is detaining many individuals including those who have been appointed as the Leaders of this Demonstrations with the under cover of conspiratorial anti-Terrorism law . Moreover, they also used the pretext that these individuals have hidden political agenda and yet all of those guys I know have been detained have never been involved in politics ever; they are spiritual teachers.

As per the 2012, Human Rights Report on Ethiopia the Gov't has misinterpreted the anti-terrorism law and in consequence has made pure human rights violations on many individuals and groups.

France 24, Please!, Please!, keep on exposing this truth to the International community.

Firs of all I would like to

Firs of all I would like to say Thank you so much for your independent report. I had been giving up in the international media because of biased report of day to day happening in our world, but now finally You convince me that there is still trustful medias are there to report the reality like you!!

Thank you again!!!

Bravo france24.com

! Bravo france24.com. And thank you for your fair coverage of the incident. I hope this website/Link won't be blocked as they did to many websites that are critics of the ruling party !

Government Intrference in Ethiopian muslim Isuuse

Thanks for your news coverage in advance.

I want to post my muslim friend Bilal Mohammed that i goyt from http://www.ethiopianreview.net/index/?p=39911 site. He put information for Christian Ethiopians.

My cooment is Ethiopian muslims only asked thier religious right questions clearly and peacfuly more than 8 months accoring to the Ethiopian Constituion. We Still requet the Government to Keep the Rule of Law / constitution of Ethiopia/. They repeatdly making fake/lie/ dram in the Ethiopian Televeion, unfortunatelly in Ethiopian there is no Private or other media.

So please understand our Ethiopian Muslim Questions and here our voice agian and again.

From an Ethiopian Muslim to Ethiopian Christians
Elias Kifle | July 22nd, 2012
By Bilal Mohammed

By now most of you have most probably heard of the peaceful questions that we Ethiopian Muslims are raising. In simple terms we are asking for independent religious representatives (known us Mejlis) to be elect by us in the mosques . The seventeen committee members elected as representatives in this quest have tried to persuade the government to solve this easy problem. In the process, we have strongly supported them by signing petitions from cities and villages from all over Ethiopia and abroad.

The committee and the protestors have made it clear that our questions are religious and religious only. We never asked anything that can threaten or even can be in the disadvantage of the Ethiopian non-Muslims. In fact, our wise committee members and the protestors at large have made sure that even in the very outrageous situation, we keep peaceful methods as our only means of struggle. Like any other citizens, we are citizens, hence no other group, including the government itself has a basis to claim that they are better concerned about our country’s peace and stability.

Despite this, the protestors had to endure deliberate false accusations from the unelected Mejlis and the government. They call the protestors “a few terrorist individuals who want to overthrow the constitution by force”. The imaginary “terrorist” word does not need explanation, we have recently witnessed journalists being called “terrorists”. As you might have seen the videos of last Friday, the more than a million protestors cannot be considered “a few”. And at this moment who is unconstitutional: the people who are going to the mosque and showing their disapproval of the Mejlis in a peaceful manner or the people in power who authorize brutal means including using teargas and lethal weapons against innocent citizens in the mosque? How do you feel if your young child, helpless old mother or father was a victim of such an attack?

No political party taught us Ethiopian Muslims and Christians how to be tolerant amongst one another. Our parents and grand parents did not have ETV and Federal police as a peace-keeping force. What they had was the beautiful culture that we inherited, exercise today and proudly talk about.

The divide and rule method is an old strategy that colonial powers applied against the citizens of their colonies. Sadly, we see this method being applied by people who claim to protect the constitution against their people. There is no need to explain the damage of the divide and rule strategy if we were not the people we are. But they seem relentless and they keep on trying.

No one is immune from being part of history, it is only a matter of how good or bad. The question is: are we going to persist in our unity, or fall for the lies of politicians and disintegrate. We have the opportunity to make a shiny history, to join hands and root out dictatorship once and for all.

Dear Christian Ethiopians,

I would like to call upon you to independently seek for information on the matter. It is my strong belief that you will easily understand our peaceful question and can contribute to change it from an Ethiopian Muslims only question to an Ethiopian question. After all, we are part of the motherland who share its joy and pain.

At this historic moment, please let us discuss the manners and the means to express support. An example is to create awareness to strengthen unity, influence relatives who are part of security forces not to cooperate in illegal and brutal suppression, spread the word so that the outside world hears it.

Thanks France 24! The main

Thanks France 24! The main cause of this problem is the forced indoctrination of Al-Ahbash of Lebanon by gov't and 'majlis' since last year July. Since then many muslim NGOs, companies, community &research centers, schools, mosques closed, banned and destroyed. Moreover many muslim scholars, preachers, Imams, journalists, activists, youths...accused as a 'terrorist' and jailed and tortured. Ethiopia is now an open prison, any one who ask his constitutional right accounted and jailed as a 'terrorist' by the new anti-terrorism law drafted by the 99.6% seats rulling party, EPDRF, owned 'parliament' except two seats one oppositon one person. The world has to know the Meles regime's brutuality.

peace_for_all

Thank you france24, for the balanced report!

Ethiopian Muslims

As a Christian Ethiopian-American, I applaud the Ethiopian Muslims for standing up for the civil rights of all Ethiopians. We are so proud of you for taking on a dictator that has tried to instill ethnic and religious divisions in Ethiopia. Ethiopian Muslims and Christians have always had respect and love for one another - for centuries!!!!

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